The Uganda Martyrs

A story of the brutal massacre of forty six courageous young men and boys, who died for their faith

The Uganda Martyrs

A story of the brutal massacre of forty six courageous young men and boys, who died for their faith: What Kabaka Mwanga thought to be a means of prevention became a watered seed that grew bigger with the largest number of Baganda being Christians.

Every year on 3rd June Christian faithful pay pilgrimage to the Namugongo to pay their respects for twenty two boys and men who gave their lives up for the love of Christ and live up to the Paradox. “Any none who wants to save his life will lose it and anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it” Luke 9:24.

The arrival of the Christian missionaries, (Anglican and Catholic), marked a major turning point in the religious life of the people of Buganda; writing a new history for both the political and religious structures of Buganda. Following the Death of King Mutesa l  in 1884, his son Mwanga ll took up the throne and no one would predict the events that would follow is succession of the throne.

Christianity which had been met with much excitement n Buganda saw a lot of converts including many of the inner circles of the Kabaka’s courts. Christianity came with its new price, and all the converts had to renounce their old traditional lifestyles, religions and practices. This meant that they would be rebellious to the cultural practices of the region.

In spite of Mwanga’s earlier tolerance and love for Christianity as a young prince, when he became king everything changed. The turned overnight into prejudiced and ferocious persecutor of Christians and all foreigners. He was driven by the greed for power equal to his predecessors whom he felt was going down the drain and the rule of foreigners rising high above him. Given the conflicting values, Mwanga was more than determined to erase what he considered rebellious ideas out of his Kingdom.

Barely a year after his accession onto the throne he ordered the brutal execution of Yusufu Rugarama, Makko Kakumba, and Nuwa Serwanga the first three Christian martyrs on 31st January 1885, at Busega Natete. Later that same year In October an Anglican Bishop James Hannington newly appointed to head Eastern Equatorial Africa, headquartered in Buganda, was murdered in Busoga on his way to Buganda at the orders of King Mwanga. He was accused of approaching Buganda from the East a direction in which the King’s wise men had warned him his enemy will use.

Joseph Mukasa Balikuddembe, a senior advisor to the king and a Catholic convert, condemned Mwanga for ordering Hannington’s death without giving him an opportunity to defend himself as was customary. Mwanga was offended by Mukasa’s remarks about his actions, and he then ordered him to be arrested and killed on Nov. 15 1885; becoming the first Catholic martyr, when he was beheaded at Nakivubo.

Since then to 1886, many more converts were brutally murdered for their failure to denounce their new found faith.  He (the king) ordered the new converts to either renounce their faith and obey him or lose their lives. Many of them were reluctant to obey him as opposed to their faith and were ordered to death

They were rounded up and walked from Munyonyo to Namugongo where they were to meet their death. On June 3rd 1886 twenty six Christians at were burnt alive with fired wood that they had fetched themselves. In this murder crusade, Jean-Marie Muzeeyi, was the last to be reported killed, he was beheaded at Mengo on Jan 27, 1887.  Today there are forty five known Catholic and Protestant martyrs that were reported but it is believed that there are those who went unreported.

Mwanga was caught up in a compromising situation when instead of killing the faith he instead watered it to grow. The blood of the martyrs instead planted a seed of faith in many hearts as can be proved today as the largest populations of Uganda are Christians. Plus the young men are now celebrated all over the world.

The 22 young Catholic men and boys known were affirmed “Blessed” by Pope Benedict XV in 1920 a major traditional step in the Catholic church that later led to their canonization as saints on 18th October 1964 Pope Paul VI; during the Vatican II conference. These brave young men today stand as the first black Africans to be canonized as saints something that brought pride to Uganda and the African continent.

In July 1969 Paul VI visited sub-Saharan Africa to honour the modern saints and thus became the first reigning pope to visit. He also managed to make a pilgrimage to Namugongo the site of martyrdom where he dedicated the site for a shrine in honour of the martyrs at the spot where Charles Lwanga was killed. The shrine saw its first mass said in it in 1975and was dedicated as well as named a basilica then  

After that a number of high profile clergy pilgrims to Namugongo to honour the Uganda matters like the head of the worldwide Anglican communion and archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, Pope John Paul II in February 1993… Since then thousands of people walk from far and near ahead of time to make it to the Namugongo Martyrdom site in honour of the martyrs on 3rd June the day most of the martyrs were killed.

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